Thousands more Rohingya are being driven into Bangladesh by an artificial food crisis created by the Myanmar army and the locals of Rakhine state.
Chronic food shortages are debilitating the already terrorised minority in Buthidaung’s four Muslim-majority villages: Maung Na Ma, Koin Daung, Jadipara and Ludang Para.
The Rohingyas at Anjuman Para said the Buddhist population of Rakhine and the military had closed down the markets and barred villagers from growing crops after the latest escalation in violence began on August 25.
Hunger is now compelling the remaining Rohingya people to leave their homes in droves in search of food.
About 20,000 managed to enter Bangladesh through Ukhiya’s Anjuman Para border before they were taken to the No Man’s Land by Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) for security reasons.
Mahmunur Rahman, a villager of Buthidaung who escaped to Bangladesh, said the Myanmar army and Mogh [Buddhists] had not allowed his people to cultivate the land.
“They closed all the markets (and) they threatened to kill us,” he said. “We were continuously living in fear and thought we would be shot dead once we leave the house.”
Mahmunur explained how they had managed to survive for so long without fresh supplies of food.
“We had witnessed the previous violence so we stored some dry food, rice, pulses after the August 25 incident,” he said.
“Our relatives in Bangladesh informed us that they were being allowed to enter the country and were getting facilities also. So we decided to come here to save our lives.”
Ukhiya’s Palangkhali Union Parishad Chairman M Gafur Uddin Chowdhury said BGB is trying to manage the fresh influx of starving refugees, which he attributed to word-of-mouth reports from those already in the camps of Cox’s Bazar.
“The Rohingya in Bangladesh conveyed messages to their relatives living in Myanmar about the better options here, and this might be the reason behind the fresh influx,” he said.
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Rajuma Khatun, an 80-year-old from Jadipara village, told the Dhaka Tribune that she had walked the last ten days of the journey from Myanmar without any food.
“Our village market had been forcefully closed down. We had no food. My son could not get any job there,” she said.
“The military and Mogh threatened to kill us if we did not leave our houses. We were compelled to flee to save our lives.”
Rajuma said she was provided with medical treatment and food at Anjuman Para area on Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
“Now I am going back to my tent and will wait to see what happens next,” she said in a croaking voice.
However, the elderly woman has no idea about the whereabouts of her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, as she lost them while fleeing the village in a hurry.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Shoyeb found his sister-in-laws and a brother-in-law at the No Man’s Land but his family members are now in a critical condition, as they have been starving for the last three days.
With the help of BGB and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Shoyeb managed to treat his in-laws but could not help his 27 other relatives at Anjuman Para.
Shoyeb, who has been living in a Rohingya camp, told the Dhaka Tribune, said: “My wife is from Mognama. Her family came to the No Man’s Land a couple of days ago. They left their houses empty-handed (and) haven’t eaten for the last few days.”
Even though Shoyeb managed to bring his in-laws to the camp, there are several other refugees who had to leave their parents in No Man’s Land.
Md Yasin, who has been staying at the Kutupalong camp for the last month, is one such Rohingya who visits No Man’s Land to feed his relatives.
He has been allowed to do so after receiving the biometrically registered identification card.
The case of 13-year-old Saber is no different. He visits his uncles and aunts at Anjuman Para.
Apart from the Anjuman Para border area, hundreds of Rohingya were also waiting at Myanmar’s Kuangsibong, Chakmakata and other bordering areas with hopes to enter Bangladesh.
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Seeking anonymity, several officials of BGB, police and local administration, told the Dhaka Triune that the Rohingya are being searched before they are allowed to enter to prevent the smuggling of gold, drugs and arms.
However, BGB and UNHCR officials are providing enough medical treatment and foods in the No Man’s Land.
On Wednesday, boats were seen carrying UNHCR’s relief for the Rohingya from Anjuman Para to No Man’s Land.
BGB Cox’s Bazar Adhoc Region’s Director (Operation), Lt Col Khalid Hasan, told the Dhaka Tribune: “We are vigilant about the Rohingya people in the border areas. We are helping the Rohingyas but no criminal should cash in on the situation.”
Mostafa Kamal, who has been at the Noapara Rohingya camp since 2012, took 15,000 Myanmar Kyat from his brother-in-law – who is near Anjuman Para’s border area, along with his wife, for three days – to convert it to Taka to buy food for them.
Six-month pregnant Hasina Begum reached the No Man’s Land with her husband and eight children after walking for seven days and surviving on only water, wild leaves and grass.
“My husband was a mason (but) the Myanmar military stopped giving us work. We were locked in our homes and villages. So we left our residences and our land.”
Hasina said she saw “hundreds” of people heading towards Bangladesh borders.
Another refugee, Mohammad Islam, said: “No Rohingya Muslims were given work. We had no food. The children could not bear it anymore.”
Laodang village residents Alam and Rahima said that although other Muslim-majority places in Rakhine were affected about two months back, their village was safe due to its remote location.